Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur exits Australian Open as inspiration to youth at home

Jabeur said she had been touched by the outpouring of support from her native Tunisia.
Tuesday 28/01/2020
Ons Jabeur of Tunisia during her fourth round match against Qiang Wang of China on day seven of the Australian Open tennis tournament at Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne, Sunday, January 26. (AAP)
Ons Jabeur of Tunisia during her fourth round match against Qiang Wang of China on day seven of the Australian Open tennis tournament at Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne, Sunday, January 26. (AAP)

TUNIS - Tunisian tennis player Ons Jabeur was defeated in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, but her unprecedented deep run in the Grand Slam tournament has uplifted fans and aspiring athletes from around the region.

Jabeur, the first female Arab tennis player to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final match, said she hoped her success on the world stage would “inspire many young generations back home, either in Tunisia or in the Arabic world or especially in Africa.” 

“It’s not impossible,” Jabeur said after securing her spot in the final eight. “I made it.” 

Jabeur added that she had been touched by the outpouring of support from her native Tunisia, where fans were eagerly watching the matches and flooding her with messages of encouragement.

“People are waking up at 5AM in the morning to watch my match. I’m really proud and hopefully they can still watch me and follow me more,” she said. “I really hope I can give a good example.”

Before facing off with 14th-ranked Sofia Kenin, Jabeur even received a phone call from Tunisian President Kais Saied, who offered her “encouragement on his and the Tunisian people’s behalf to further honour the Tunisian flag,” according to the country’s official press agency. 

Born in a small town in Tunisia’s coastal Monastir governorate, Jabeur started playing tennis at the age of 3 and progressed to the professional women’s circuit at age 14. 

She won the junior French Open in 2011, becoming the only North African woman to hold a junior Grand Slam title. And in 2017 she broke into the main WTA top 100 rankings, qualifying for all 4 Grand Slam singles and winning multiple main-draw matches. 

Jabeur entered the 2020 Australian Open unseeded, but impressed with a third-round upset over once top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki in the last match of her career . 

Jabeur went on to defeat 27th-ranked Qiang Wang in the fourth round, before losing to Kenin. Her strong showing in the tournament is expected to catapult her into the WTA top 50 rankings for the first time. 

In an interview with international media, Jabeur described herself as a “100% Tunisian product,” saying she had declined multiple scholarships overseas in order to train at home and play professionally. 

Tunsian sports journalist Souhail Khmira highlighted the sentiment at home after the tennis pro’s historic run: “We're all so very proud of you, Ons Jabeur,” he wrote on Twitter. “Well done! Fantastic effort! Hold your head up high.”